BART Finds its Authentic Voice

Salesforce as CRM and Salesforce for marketing are familiar use cases, so it was refreshing at Dreamforce to catch up with a very high profile Bay Area organization which is leveraging other parts of the suite, in particular Social Studio, the social listening and engagement tool.

BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) moves some 420,000 passengers every day. “Several years ago our ridership was at 200,000” Alicia Trost, BART’s Chief Communications Officer told me. “Then the economy improved, and it just doubled. The trains started to get crowded, which impacts whether you’re on time or not. This ate away at customer satisfaction. On top of that, the homeless crisis got in everyone’s face. Anything that happens in the regions we serve somehow makes it into our system. It’s porous, our fare gates are easy to jump over. We heard our riders saying they don’t feel safe when having to share a confined space with someone with mental health issues; or someone smelled bad on the train, so they think the train is dirty.”

As far as the very serious problem of homelessness goes, didn’t BART have the option of placing responsibility on local and state government? “People don’t want to hear we’re just pushing the problem somewhere else. When you give them an authentic answer, that is honest and open, it builds trust.” 

Rather than ignoring a highly sensitive topic, BART chose to use social media to engage with the public. “Sometimes the answer is, we don’t have an answer. We’re relying on increased state funding, or partnership with the counties, but we started to have those difficult conversations through social media, and we were doing that before we brought on Salesforce.”

Among the challenges Trost faced before adopting Salesforce were a lack of data, and poor visibility into the performance of team members using social media. “We don’t have a dedicated social media person, and we like that. We share responsibilities. But I needed a platform where I could manage all those people, and see what’s been assigned and what hasn’t.” Salesforce Social Studio solved those problems, and also allowed the team to prioritize their social listening, based on criteria such as numbers of followers, or whether someone is a reporter or politician.

“Even more, we’ve made connection to Service Cloud, so we can set up cases. With that comes the amazing data. When you work in an operation-heavy environment like a train system, it’s very difficult for a PR team to elicit change without the data. Because of Salesforce, and the data we’re seeing, and the automation we have, I’m able to show in a rapid, almost real-time way, peaks in certain topics.”

One positive example was the roll-out of a new feature for the digital platform signs. BART had launched a new train category, and they heard on social channels that people really wanted to experience the Fleet of the Future, as it’s known. “Now you can tell if an approaching train is Fleet of the Future or not. The day we rolled it out, we got tweets saying the information was sometimes wrong. We were able to use automatic tags to roll up [the data] every day of that week, and send it to computer systems engineering, so they had time-stamped examples of when and where it was wrong. They had it fixed within two days.”

Previously, BART would have been reliant on being notified by calls or emails, or even by staff, “who already have plenty of work to do,” said Trost. “This was getting great user generated content to fix a problem.”

A less pleasant example was riders sharing photos of bio-hazards on the trains (and bio-hazards are just what you think they are). There was an assumption at BART that this didn’t happen frequently, but the social data showed that unfortunately it did. “In four days we created a ‘report a bio-hazard’ feature. The riders can actually put in the train car numbers, send a photo if they want, and it triggers getting it fixed right away. Someone on the platform finds that train, cleans it up, sometimes while that person [who reported it] is still on the train. They’re now taking pictures of our crew cleaning the mess, celebrating us.”

Trost calls this “social customer care.” Although cases can be automatically triggered in Service Cloud, human eyes stay on the case load, prioritizing issues, and making sure the workforce isn’t overwhelmed. 

The most significant channel for engaging riders is Twitter, but BART also monitors Facebook. “Reddit is actually extremely popular,” said Trost. “There’s a huge Reddit community here in the Bay Area.”

Up next for BART is the implementation of Email Studio. “Our current system asks people to opt into a weekly marketing email,” Trost explained. “Now we’ll be able to know a little bit more. Are you taking the train for work or for fun? What are your home stations? It can then be better targeted; we’re moving in that direction.” There’s also some strategic rethinking of how to approach marketing, relying more heavily on user generated content to find the stories people want to hear, rather than just deciding what they need to be told. “We’re a perfect system, we’re always on time, look at this beautiful, clean train. Instead of doing that, we’re trying to be more real, honest, and authentic in what we push out.”

That doesn’t mean only being reactive. “My favorite thing,” said Trost, “is to create something, then sit on it, and wait for the perfect tweet from the public, then tweet the content.” This is possible, Trost explained, if you stay tuned into the ridership. “Besides the media part, my job is to have my finger on the pulse of what the riders are saying about us. I ride the train everywhere — I think that’s important — our new general manager rides the train and stops and talks to people. We can’t just tell people we’re doing something; we have to show them we know what it’s like to be on a crowded, sweaty train which needs a new air-conditioning unit.”

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